Greek Mythology Offers Important Perspectives on the Nature of Humanity, and Refutes Biblical Creation Stories

A Review of Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen


Goddesses in Everywoman doesn’t challenge anyone’s belief in God and it isn’t suggesting that women are literally goddesses, but when I read it for the second time, I realized that understanding the concepts Shinoda Bolen shares in the book, which focuses on understanding some of the things people believed as far back as the 8th century BC, can dramatically affect who we think we are and perhaps even change what many people currently believe.

Goddesses in Everywoman doesn’t challenge anyone’s belief in God and it isn’t suggesting that women are literally goddesses, but when I read it for the second time, I realized that understanding the concepts Shinoda Bolen shares in the book, which focuses on understanding some of the things people believed as far back as the 8th century BC, can dramatically affect who we think we are and perhaps even change what many people currently believe.

The 8th century BC. The Iliad was written during that time period. It’s one of the oldest existing works of Western literature. [1]

“The Judgement of Paris” is one of the episodes of the The Iliad. It’s a story about a party that Zeus threw when a couple of his friends got married. For what seems like obvious reasons he didn’t invite Eris, the goddess of discord, but she showed up anyway and created a bit of a kerfuffle between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite.

Most of the ancient Greeks who heard this story knew about Zeus and hundreds of other gods and goddesses. They believed they existed. It was common knowledge.

Every one of the gods and goddesses had a story that enabled people to understand them. It included a list of their relatives, their strengths and weaknesses, how they acquired them, and the people they interacted with or helped.

Each of the goddesses’ personalities was focused on a central aspect of women’s lives, like motherhood, love, wisdom, and adventure. But just saying that creates a problem. Some people may think that’s all they need to know. When we know a little bit about someone, when we find out they are a mother or a business person or an athlete, we often think that’s all we need to know because we have our own ideas about what those descriptions mean.

In Goddesses in Everywoman, Shinoda Bolen shares a concept that Carl Jung developed, that these simple, descriptive terms are archetypes.

Shinoda Bolen shows that for the ancient Greeks the nature of these archetypes were rich and complex because for them they were actual gods and goddesses. Of course, most people no longer believe in these gods and goddesses, but in Goddesses in Everywoman, Shinoda Bolen explores seven of the goddess archetypes and provides an incredible amount of information that helps us better understand ourselves and the women in our lives.

After reading Goddesses in Everywoman, I was able to reach a place of peace regarding my relationships with a number of women in my life.

I was finally able to see that one of them was, for the most part, Hera, the wife. Once I realized that the most important thing for her was to be the best wife she could be, I was able to stop wanting, expecting, hoping she would ever be anything else.

Of course, I was also able to see myself in number of the goddesses. The straightforward way that some of the personality traits are described and the events that occurred that created the goddesses’ lives added incredible depth to my understanding of myself. While I managed a business for over 20 years, I have felt most like myself in the actions I have taken as a mother, but throughout my life as a girl, woman, and mother, nothing I’ve ever read or experienced provided the kind of empowerment that eminates from the decriptions of the goddesses.

Demeter, the Goddess of Grain, Nurturer, and Mother, is described as:

1) stubborn, patient, and persistent

Shinoda Bolen explains that women who feel strongly aligned with Demeter fight to get what their children need and refuse to resign themselves to loss.

2) generous

Shinoda Bolen says that Demeter was the most generous goddess. “Some naturally provide food and physical care, some provide emotional support, while others give spiritual nourishment.” [3]

3) a super mother, solid, dependable, altruistic, and loyal

For most of my life, I was led to believe that some parts of human nature were undesirable, but in Greek mythology, everything about human nature is presented as fact, as normal. Goddesses in Everywoman helps people see some of the distortions that are being perpetuated by contemporary religion.

Even though you may start to sense the feelings these words elicit, the list above is too brief to do justice to the descriptions Shinoda Bolen has developed.

She includes the story of each goddess – the personality traits of the archetype, difficulties that may occur for women who manifest an archetype, how these aspects of ourselves affect us in different stages of their lives, how it affects our work environment, how it impacts our relationships with men and women, and how sexuality, marriage, and children are viewed.

Shinoda Bolen, also a Jungian analyst, also helped me rethink the concept of the animus.* Shinoda Bolen explains that, “(Jung’s) theoretical position discouraged women’s strivings to achieve,” which she confirmed by including this quote of his, “By taking up a masculine profession, studying and working like a man, woman is doing something not wholly in accord with, if not directly injurious to, her feminine nature.” [4]

In Greek culture 3,000 years ago people regarded women’s strengths as their own. They didn’t think that a woman would get her “rationality, spirituality, and competence” from some aspect within her that was inherently masculine. [5]

These stories, these myths, also affected me in a couple of other ways.

Aspects of myself that, throughout my life, I have been led to believe were undesirable in a woman are presented simply as facts, as normal parts of each goddess. It’s incredible to realize that the people of this culture understood the nature of humanity so clearly 3,000 years ago, and I believe people desperately need to understand it again.

Another thing that strikes me as remarkable is the fact that even though many people have been led to believe that everyone descended from Adam and Eve, and then Noah, which would lead us to expect that everyone would develop creation stories that were similar to the ones in the Bible, the ancient Greeks developed a concept about gods and goddesses that were completely different. They were family. [6]

Wouldn’t you think that if everyone descended from Adam and Eve, and then Noah, everyone would develop creation stories that were just like the ones in the Bible? But if you look at all of the belief systems people developed around the world, there have been radical differences.

Goddesses in Everywoman confirmed my belief in the importance of understanding as many of the perspectives that have been developed about humanity and God as possible.

The path to understanding God should never be limited. We don’t know if God is part of us or separate from us, but from what I’ve experienced, the true path to understanding involves searching for information that will help us understand and become our true selves, and opening our minds to having a relationship with God.

I keep seeing posts from people that say that “You know you’re on the right track when you are uninterested in looking back,” but I hope that you will keep seeking, whichever direction your path takes you.


*Animus/Anima: Jung developed the idea of the collective unconscious and says that it is the part of our consciousness in which all of the basic concepts or archetypes of life reside. In a man, the archetype of the anima finds expression as a feminine inner personality, and in a woman the archetype of the animus finds expression as a masculine inner personality. [7]

Note: Shinoda Bolen has also written Gods in Everyman and a number of other books.

1) “Iliad.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 June 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliad>.
2) “Judgement of Paris.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 June 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judgement_of_Paris>.
3) Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. Print. p. 174
4) Ibid; 41-42
5) Ibid; 41, 43
6) “Theogony.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 June 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theogony>.
Note the last chart titled, “Children of divine mothers with mortal fathers.”
7) “Anima/Animus.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 June 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anima_and_animus>.


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